“Our shows start slow paced as we ease the audience into it, but once it goes it goes like hell.” James & Jamesy
Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles have teamed up once again as the lovable James & Jamesy to present O Christmas Tea, December 6 and 7 to the Kay Meek Theatre, at 1700 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver, BC. With comparisons to Monty Python and Mr Bean, O Christmas Tea centres around the pair getting what they wish for and then dealing with the consequences. Having earned rave reviews performing the British characters over 500 times in other James & Jamesy productions such as High Tea, 2 for Tea, and In The Dark, Malkin and Knowles are set to bring their charming roles back to their home turf for their annual Christmas production. Vancouver Weekly was able to track down the pair of physical comedians and speak to the winners of the Canadian Comedy Award for Best Live Ensemble (2016), and 2-time finalists for the Just for Laughs Best Comedy Award ahead of the production’s two-date stop-off in our city.
The 20-time “Best of Fest” winners have a strong penchant for tea, as Malkin explains over the phone. “When we came up with these two British characters we leaned into everything that we knew of to be ‘all things British’, central to that happened to be tea. When these two characters met for the first time, what was the occasion for their meeting? Well, what could be more British than having tea?” Knowles maintains that ritual has as much to do with the James & Jamesy choice to emphasize tea as does the reputation the Brits have gained for their fondness of the beverage. “Tea is something that many people can relate to; they have tea ritual in their lives. It is a time that they take out of their agendas or out of their busy lives. With our shows, the time that we take out to tea with each other is where the adventures spring from.”
Malkin and Knowles have developed an entire production company under the James & Jamesy brand, a decision that Malkin admits happened more by osmosis than intent. “A ten-minute sketch that we did as these two characters having tea together blossomed (into) all of the shows that we have done, the four different performances, and has been our career paths for the last six years.”
The continued rise in popularity of James & Jamesy has seen the pair go from performing on smaller to large stages, a change that Knowles is happy to adapt to by the increased use of technology. “As we have moved from performing in 100 to 200 seat theatres to performing in the largest theatres in the province we have incorporated video. We have purchased screens that are 18-feet-tall that go on both sides of the stage. Those screens will provide some visual support in getting audience members into that world. Our shows are challenging for people. Our shows keep the invitation open from the moment we start to the moment we close we are like, “you are welcome to join us in this world of imagination.” As the show progresses, it coaxes the audience out of their shells and into the play. Moreover, that letting go is challenging for many people. “
As word of the eccentric British characters with a love of tea has spread across the global theatre community, Malkin admits that the opportunity to take James & Jamesy to the London this past summer came with a caveat. “We were in this UK for the first time this past August, and it was well received. It was funny performing British characters in the UK because for us in Canada we have this strong association with British comedy and quirky British characters. Whereas when we are performing in the UK, we are no longer quirky British characters we are just quirky characters, which puts a different lens on the show.”
Fans of James & Jamesy may be surprised to learn that O Christmas Tea was not always a December-centric production. Malkin explains that the James & Jamesy production of High Tea served as a backdrop for the holiday hit. “The very first time we did O Christmas Tea we realized that we were booked to do a show in December. We were going to do a show called High Tea which follows James & Jamesy as they float the world with tea. We were sitting a hotel room, and we thought “if we do this and that and that and this” than our show High Tea can be framed as a Christmas show. Over the years we have leaned into that more and more so that with every iteration becomes a fuller Christmas show, rather than High Tea with some added Christmas theme.
With O Christmas Tea about to commence its third straight year, Knowles is happy to finally have a two day run in the city the pair call home. “We have grown a fan base in Vancouver, and we have yet to perform a James & Jamesy show here in a couple of years. O Christmas Tea will be a homecoming, which is fun. We will have not only the people that are new to us but to have some of our Vancouver fan base there which will be exciting.”